Ubuntu and Android make for a mobile one-two punch


Canonical plans to turn future Android phones into Ubuntu desktops, which could eliminate the need to carry a laptop. The company announced the news on Tuesday and will be demonstrating the solution later this month at the Mobile World Congress. The idea of using a docked phone as a full-fledged desktop computer isn’t new, but Canonical is well suited to make the concept work.

The theory behind the idea is simple. When using the phone for typical handset functions, it works like any other Android phone. But place that phone in a dock that’s connected to a monitor and keyboard, and the phone powers an Ubuntu PC. The interface and features would be identical to a full desktop computer that has the Ubuntu operating system installed on it. Even better is the data access between the two platforms, says Canonical:

All data and services are shared between the Ubuntu and Android environments, which run simultaneously on the device. So Android applications such as contacts, telephony and SMS/MMS messaging are accessible from the Ubuntu interface. Indeed, all data on the smartphone can be accessed at any time, docked or not.

As I noted, this idea isn’t new. Most recently, Motorola attempted to implement it a year ago with its Atrix 4G smartphone and lapdock hardware. But the theory was better than the implementation, based on my usage. As a “laptop,” the system was sluggish and very limited: only web applications could be installed in Motorola’s customized version of Linux. I haven’t seen any mention of installable apps for Canonical’s solution, but there are a number of useful pre-installed apps.

Another key here is that Canonical has more experience that most with Linux implementations as Ubuntu is arguably the most-used Linux distro. That means it will likely have answers to any problems that Motorola faced with its attempt.

And the timing of this move is right for Canonical. I’ve been wondering if we really need the quad-core chips that are coming soon to smartphones — for phone activities and apps, I’m not sold. But phones that become traditional desktops have the potential to benefit from the extra processing power.

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